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Dan Mahowny was a rising star at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. At twenty-four he was assistant manager of a major branch in the heart of Toronto's financial district. To his colleagues he was a workaholic. To his customers, he was astute, decisive and helpful. To his friends, he was a quiet, but humorous man who enjoyed watching sports on television. To his girlfriend, he was shy but engaging. None of them knew the other side of Dan Mahowny--the side that executed the largest single-handed bank fraud in Canadian history, grossing over $10 million in eighteen months to feed his gambling obsession. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Every once and while, film buffs get a treat. Amongst all the crash and burn violence and volume of the summer blockbusters, every once and while, a movie will sneak under the radar and capture our attention.
Owning Mahowny didn't get much of a theatrical release. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, the film never played on more than 24 screens and earned only a fraction of the minute $10 million budget. But here is your chance to find it in the lonely O' section of your local DVD retailer.
The movie is based on the true story of Dan Mahowny (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a mid-level bank official that has a gambling problem. Dan will bet on almost anything and his addiction would result in a financial hole not easily climbed. It is here that Dan begins to use his title at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce to fraudulently steal money for week-end trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Over his eighteen month spree, Dan was able to gamble over $10 million of the banks dollars.
The film follows Dan through the initial stages of his addiction and careful details his interaction with Vegas hotel staff, co-workers and his girlfriend as he feeds his desires while keeping his compulsion secret. As he falls deeper into the casino's pockets, the hotel owners fall deeper in love with his freelance style, and Dan is soon treated with celebrity like status upon every visit. However, eventually, the police begin to piece the missing money together and the result is the uncovering of the biggest one-man bank fraud to ever hit the Canadian borders.
Owning Mahowny is a terrific film largely in part to the incredible acting performance by Hoffman. As Dan Mahowny, Hoffman is able to portray an insatiable gambler who is ignorant to his surroundings when at the card table. His stare at the table and lack of emotional response, either for the good or the bad, is incredibly parlayed by Hoffman's sweat and stature. A scene where Mahowny takes his girlfriend to Vegas but quickly ignores and forgets her once he is in front of a blackjack table is unforgettable.
Owning Mahowny is not without its good supporting cast either, including John Hurt (Alien) as the Casino owner that takes a shine to Mahowny and Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) as his girlfriend. Both show us the contrast between someone who doesn't want to know how he does it and loves him for it and the other who can't seem to get to know the man she loves.
Like 1999's Rogue Trader, it is scary to see the loopholes exploited by bank or financial institution employees in these true stories brought to the big screen. It both movies, you see how one man with the access to large amounts of money can easily get over their own head and dig themselves deeper and deeper into a whole, yet they are always thinking they are one bet or one trade away from righting the wrong.
Owning Mahowny was one of the best films of 2003, and should not be missed. Storytelling doesn't get any better than this.
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